Arthur Blank: Atlanta on the verge of landing MLS franchise

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he is in the "very final stages" of reaching an agreement to land a MLS expansion franchise. The new team would likely start play in 2017 when the new Falcons stadium opens in downtown Atlanta.

Kyle Terada/Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank confirmed he expects to sign a deal soon to bring MLS to Atlanta.

The two parties have not reached concrete terms on the expansion agreement as of yet, but Blank told a local radio station on Wednesday those negotiations are expected to yield a positive outcome in short order.

“The answer is yes. … We’re in the very final stages of doing our agreement. We hope to have an announcement this coming week,” Blank told 680 The Fan (Atlanta) on Wednesday.

If the agreement eventually comes to fruition, it would mark the end of a long courtship between MLS and the Blanks. Much of the impetus for the partnership stems from the Falcons’ impending move to a $1.2 billion, retractable roof stadium next to the Georgia Dome in 2017.

SALES PITCH

Blank expressed interest in hosting a MLS team in his new venue and made accommodations for future soccer events during the design process. The new stadium will use technology similar to the methods used at B.C. Place to create a more intimate atmosphere for matches in the expected 65,000-seat ground.

 “We think it’s a tremendous fit for Atlanta from a variety of standpoints,” Blank said. “Our new stadium is being designed to accommodate potentially the World Cup and international soccer games with the roof expanding. The roof, obviously, is retractable, which means we can open and close it to any level we want to. The field will be designed to accommodate soccer. We’re enthused about that. We think the fan support in Atlanta will be incredible. An urban, downtown soccer stadium will be a tremendous hit in Atlanta.”

The prospect of playing at a downtown venue tailored to soccer in some fashion stands in stark contrast to trials and tribulations experienced by top-flight teams in the past. Atlanta hosted two separate teams in the old NASL (1968-73, 79-81) with little success. The market also currently hosts the Atlanta Silverbacks, a NASL outfit with a suburban venue.

At this point in its development, Atlanta – complete with an accessible, downtown venue – represents a sensible destination for MLS. It is the largest city in the United States without a franchise. Its rapidly changing demographics skew kindly for a league seeking to cater to diverse communities with enclaves of burgeoning young professionals. And there is at least some demonstrated interest in the market: CONCACAF hosted a pair of Gold Cup quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome last year, while a friendly between Mexico and Nigeria drew a crowd of 68,212 to the same facility last month.

Blank hopes to celebrate his new investment with a large-scale event in short order. There are plans in the works to host a significant gathering on April 16, according an initial report from philly.com confirmed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Blank did not confirm the date, but he said he planned to herald the arrival of his latest purchase once the deal is finalized.

 “We’re excited about it,” Blank said. “We have an event planned for, hopefully, the middle of April in downtown Atlanta that will be very unique and special. It’ll be a tremendous celebration of the sport.”

MLS EXPANSION IN THE SOUTHEAST

 

CITY INVESTOR/OPERATOR STATUS PROJECTED START DATE
Atlanta Arthur Blank Final stages of negotations – Stadium deal complete 2017
Orlando Flavio Augusto da Silva Franchise awarded – Stadium deal complete 2015 (confirmed)
Miami David Beckham Option to purchase franchise exercised – Intent to place team in Miami declared – Stadium deal in process 2017-18